I ALWAYS bring my camera with me. Except for these three times...and of course, these three times it would have been nice to be able to capture the moment. Because in these technological days, do things really happen if we don't record them? (I'll save that discussion for later.)
1) I was walking from campus to campus one day (JCU is split into two separate "campuses" and by "campus" they mean "building") when I realized I wasn't just walking past locals or parked cars. Approximately 100 men in tuxedos were walking town a Trastevere side street. To this day I have absolutely no idea where they were headed or where they were coming from, but they all looked good whatever they were doing. And I think they were speaking English, which is even stranger.
2) Today as I was walking to class, I stumbled upon a film crew rehearsing a scene outside of a Trastevere bar (In Italy a bar is just a cafe). I think it was Italian, but it was still a real film crew with a director and several cameras set up and guys holding big furry mics over the actors.
3) Here is where the "ESPECIALLY in The Vatican" part of the title comes from. I won't beat around the bush: I saw the Pope today. And not only that, he was only about 50 feet from me. It's the strangest story, too, and I wish I brought my camera with me to class today so I could show you. Ah well, my storytelling will have to be enough.
Right before my afternoon class Shannon called me from the Vatican. "I think the Pope is going to be here at 4" she said. I told her I had class until 3:30 but I would call her after and come up to see. I wasn't sure why the Pope would be out today, a Monday, Groundhog's Day in the States, but who knows.
After class I hiked up to The Vatican and found Shannon in a massive line in St. Peter's Square. We were crammed in the line between groups of nuns, priests, random tourists, and school kids and we had no idea what for...but then this lady handed us each a bright green piece of paper which we realized was our free ticket inside. The writing on it was Italian but we made out that this was a mass presided over by a cardinal and that the Pope would make an appearance at the end. We still didn't know what the special occasion was, though.
They filed us all in the basilica, which was all set up and looked different than it did when we came as tourists. The middle area was pretty much full so we were led to each side. (St. Peter's Basilica looks like a giant cross with the high altar in the middle where each section meets.) Our spot was seven rows back on the left side of the altar, which is closer than tourists can get on normal days. We waited as the church filled and I looked around at all of the nuns and priests and monks (there were random tourists/lay people too, but mostly it was religious). I don't know how many people were there, but it had to be a couple hundred.
The service started with the ringing of bells and we stood as the choir began singing. The entire thing was in Italian, but we had booklets to follow along and I found myself understanding most of it thanks to what little Italian I do know plus knowing how the mass goes in general.
After the mass finished, it got really quiet in the basilica. Then, people started clapping from the other side of the altar. Soon, we saw why: Pope Benedict XVI was making his way to the front. As he walked up to the altar he waved in every direction and the congregation all waved back. He looked so happy, all smiles and waving to everyone.
Then, from what Shannon and I could gather, he gave a blessing. Cameramen panned the congregation as the Papal Swiss Guard stood at attention all around the church. After his blessing, we clapped again and he walked out, through crowds of people cheering and snapping pictures.
It was quite possibly the weirdest experience of my life, considering how random it was. Shannon just wanted to check out confession at the Vatican and maybe get some more pictures and we ended up staying at the Vatican for mass in Italian and a blessing from the Pope--and of course neither of us had our cameras with us!
Back at the apartment, I translated the ticket to see what the mass was for: Feast of the Presentation of the Lord--World Day of Consecrated Life, Cardinal Franc Rode presiding. This feast, which always falls on February 2, 40 days after we celebrate Jesus' birth, is commonly called Candlemas because of the candlelight procession. So even though I have no pictures to document the day, I do have my votive candle from the procession as a souvenir, along with the free ticket and the program from the service.
Now I just have to start hanging out at the Vatican with my camera, waiting around for the next big feast day...